During my bachelor years, I studied a lot of subjects related to how our body functions at a molecular level. I remember sitting in class and being fascinated by the teacher’s explanations. Slides full of weird names and drawings representing parts of us. I wasn’t capable of imaging all of this happening inside of me.
At first glance, we may seem just a body, a whole unit, but actually, inside our bodies, thousands of coordinated processes run by millions of molecules are taking place each second. Our bodies are naturally awesome machines and not realising this can make us treat them in a destructive way. Put another way, we’re like a very complex and well-engineered car that we get for free and treating it like it’s a third-hand old car that can be replaced can lead to serious damage.
To realise that some of our behaviours are nonsense, I believe it’s important to make the exercise of comparing both things. It’s great for analysing what we’re doing and putting things in perspective. After doing this exercise, I ended up with a list of three things that we usually wouldn’t do to our cars but we do to our bodies. Here we go:
Put the wrong fuel in it
If you own a car or have ever rented one, you know one of the first things you look at is if it runs on petrol or diesel. You need to know it because the wrong type can provoke serious damage to your car. Try putting petrol into a diesel engine and you’ll end up damaging the fuel lines, the pump and even the engine. On the other hand, try putting diesel into a petrol engine and chances are you won’t even be able to start the engine.
Each vehicle is designed to use a type of fuel and the wrong one doesn’t work. It damages the pieces, causing the car not to function at all. And the price to pay to repair it can be very high.
In a sense, your body is like a machine. It’s made of thousands and thousands of pieces working perfectly together to make you do all the things you do. Those pieces only work excellently if they have the right fuel, which means the right food.
If you feed yourself with processed foods, high amounts of sugar, fried foods or high amounts of animal products, you’re doing the same to your body as if you were putting the wrong fuel for your car. The pieces will start getting damaged. In the long term, the price to pay can be very high, coming in the shape of any kind of disease. And, sometimes, the damage can even be irreparable.
The solution is simple. Do what you do to your car: use the right type of fuel to run it. Your body is made to function properly when it receives what it needs: vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruits, nuts and, if you want, some high-quality meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
Leave it in the garage for a long time
Cars are something designed with a clear purpose in mind: to transport humans from point A to point B. They can be fancier, cheaper or more colourful, but they all have in common they’re built to be in motion. They need their lubricants heated and circulated to flush out particles, and their moving parts need to move to avoid seizing up. If a car isn’t used for a long time, corrosion builds up and it can seriously damage some pieces of the car. So, a car parked in the garage is not only useless but it also ends up damaged.
The same story happens to people. Our brains were built to move our bodies toward food and mates, and away from predators. So, the main purpose of our bodies, still nowadays, is to move. Moving is not only about getting a “fitness body” but it’s what allows us to function properly. A lot of scientists have demonstrated over the years that moving activates a series of processes in our bodies that enhance the mood, lower stress, build bone mass, reduce cognitive decline and even improve sex life!
A crucial part movement plays in our bodies is to make lymph fluid circulate around the body. The lymphatic system is a series of channels and nodes (like the one you feel in your neck when you have a sore throat) dispersed throughout the body that move lymph fluid. But, unlike the respiratory or the circulatory systems, the lymphatic system does not have a “pump” to move the lymph fluid through your body. Instead, you pump it around every time you move. And this isn’t a trivial thing. The lymph system is part of your body’s immune system and it contains immune cells that help fight infections and clear waste and bacteria from your body.
If you don’t move, waste starts accumulating, mood decreases and stiffness increases, opening the door to diseases ranging from cardiovascular to skeletomuscular ones.
As you’ve seen, sitting on the sofa is the same for your body than staying in the garage is for a car. It’s not only not using our bodies for what they’re made for but it’s also damaging them and drastically increasing the possibilities for disease.
Fix it in a cheap and dirty way
Last year, I was travelling around Australia and, together with my partner, we bought a car. Two weeks after the acquisition, the car started making a weird noise. We were backpacking on a tight budget so you can imagine that just the thought of having to pay for a big and expensive repair was really painful. After thinking about it, we ended up with two options. Option 1 was to turn up the volume of the music every time we were driving. That way, although the problem wouldn’t be solved, we wouldn’t hear any noise. Option 2 was to acknowledge the problem and go to the car repair service to find out the cause of the strange noise.
Of course, option 1 was cheaper and easier, but we could end up with a really damaged car in no time. Or even worse, the car could stop functioning and we wouldn’t be able to pay for the repair or afford a new one. On the other hand, option 2 required some effort (searching for a mechanic and maybe staying some days without a car) and was definitely time-consuming (bringing the car to the mechanic), but, in the long-term, it would probably save us a lot of problems. So, which one would you choose?
We face the same dilemma with our health more often than we think. The car I talked about is no different than our body. In a lot of occasions, we decide to treat the symptoms in a light way, instead of finding the cause of the problem and making changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. For example, imagine that you are suffering from back pain. You can take an Ibuprofen every time it hurts and just wait for the problem to be solved or you can find the cause of the problem and stop having back pain. Maybe it is the posture in which you sit, maybe the shoes you wear,…
Taking a pill or medicine is always quicker and easier than changing a habit you have. But, as with the case of the car, the trick lies in thinking long-term. What you can fix today may not be fixable tomorrow. And in the case of your body, most times there aren’t spare pieces.
Thinking about what we wouldn’t do to a thing we appreciate, but we do to ourselves can be a revealing exercise and a path to start understanding that our bodies need to be treated with the same affection and dedication as we treat some of our material objects so they can function properly.
By doing this exercise, I’ve realised that one difference between a car and a body worth taking into account is resilience. In the case of the car, most of the consequences due to bad usage can be observed relatively quick. The car wouldn’t turn on or it would make a strange noise. On the other hand, when we talk about our bodies, the consequences of a bad habit are not immediate. Most diseases build up over years of damaging the body, so the effects can only be seen in the long term.
Can you think about anything else we could add to the list? Any other comparison? I encourage you to think about it and if you come up with anything, I’ll read you on the comments!